Finalist: Calkins Digital

Local news goes Over-The-Top

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Mega-Innovation Award Finalist:
Calkins Digital

Streaming video on Over-The-Top platforms, Calkins Media Incorporated newspapers are now also "micro TV stations."

In just a couple of years, the Bucks County Courier Times in Pennsylvania and its sisters newspapers in Calkins Philadelphia Region have incorporated OTT channels into their routine operations, said Emily Dresslar, director of strategic partnerships for Calkins Digital. Calkins ABC-TV affiliate stations have adopted the technology as well.

"The key was not bringing on a whole new video team, which is the route some newspapers have gone, but transforming our newsrooms so that photographers became videographers, and reporters became print reporters as well as video reporters," Dresslar said. "A couple of years ago what we wanted didn't exist in the market, so we built it ourselves."

For Calkins papers, it's one more way to deliver news and advertising. As Dresslar said of the Bucks County operation, if someone was going to do it, Calkins executives thought it should be done with reliable local news generated by the newspaper.

Calkins newspapers serve markets just outside of metro areas often dominated by large newspapers and TV stations. The metro broadcast TV stations in particular don't provide thorough local coverage of suburban or rural markets, Dresslar said.

Bucks County, for example, is just outside Philadelphia. OTT users can check in for news updates, entertainment, sports shows, restaurant reviews or whatever else the local newspaper office puts together. Photographers use iPhones or cameras to provide video.

Each paper has a branded channel with its own logo or call letters. Bucks County even has a news anchor formerly of the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia.

The OTT channels for all Calkins Properties can be accessed through Roku, Apple TV and AmazonFire TV. Calkins Media says its newspapers and broadcast stations were some of the first local media properties in the United States to launch branded channels on OTT platforms.

One of the most popular features in the Philadelphia region has proven to be a high school sports show featuring analysis and game wrap-ups from sports reporters in Bucks County and Burlington County.

"They've been sportswriters for decades in the local communities, and their breadth of knowledge is great," Dresslar said. "They can really dig in deep on the analysis. That's something no one else can offer."

Although audiences are still small and fragmented across devices, overall response has exceeded expectations, she said. "We were surprised by the adoption of video streaming technology by consumers. It's been even faster than we anticipated."

OTT apps are marketed to advertisers as part of the news packages available in the local communities. Digital revenue grew by 20 percent in the last year to make up 10 percent of the overall Calkins revenue.

Last year Calkins Digital, which has about a dozen employees, began offering its services to other local media companies, community organizations and brands. In addition to OTT and mobile video apps the company offers analytics, ad serving, customer support and consulting.

As a relatively small media company, Calkins says its size lets it operate more efficiently, while its family ownership is committed to innovation.

"We're still in a period of experimentation," Dresslar said. "How do people want to watch local news and information best on these platforms?"

For more information, go to www.calkinsdigital.com or www.calkins.com. Reach Emily Dresslar at edresslar@calkins.com.


Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.